Helmets Mandatory?

Background Reading

Yes: Helmet laws would reduce preventable injuries and deaths among cyclists.—Greg Kaplan

If you ride a bike, you need to wear a helmet. At present, 22 states, including the District of Columbia, have statewide laws regarding mandatory helmet use by minors. Proposed legislation in California would make it the first state to require helmets for adult cyclists. Wearing a helmet while riding a bike is analogous to wearing a seatbelt while driving. When operating a motor vehicle, you are legally required to use a seatbelt, and can be cited for not wearing one.

Of cyclists involved in crashes, bicycle helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury riskby 85 percent. During the summer of 2014, while riding on a road closed to auto traffic, I survived a collisionwith another cyclist, only because I was wearing a helmet. Without a helmet, the front of my head would have hit the ground at 28mph, unprotected.

Just several months before my crash, a car that ran a stop sign struck one of my friends while she was riding her bike. She had massive facial trauma, and continues to suffer long-term effects from going through the automobile’s windshield. She “coded” while on the helicopter ride to the hospital. The only reason she is around today: A helmet saved her life.

In 2013—the most recent year for which we have full data—fatalities were four times greater for non-helmet wearers, than helmet wearers. Sixty-three percent of bicyclists killed in 2013 reportedly were not wearing helmets.

Arguments against mandatory helmet laws that are based on what goes on in other countries, like the Netherlands, are invalid. We do not live in other countries, which have different driving laws, as well as different culture and attitudes surrounding bicycle-vehicle interactions.

Claims that wearing a helmet makes cycling appear dangerous, and may discourage cycling, are unproven. In fact in one survey by the NHTSA, 62% of respondents supported mandatory bicycle helmet use for adults. Comparing cycling to other recreational pursuits, we see that football players—at all levels—wear helmets to lessen the risk of brain injury. This is also the case for baseball, hockey, horseback riding, and virtually every other sport that may involve some risk of personal injury. Yet, thousands of people start and continue to participate in these activities, all while wearing helmets, not deterred by the appearance of danger or risk of personal injury.

Many insurance companies, so convinced that helmets save lives, provide an annual bicycle helmet allowance. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “a nationwide telephone survey estimated that state helmet use laws increase by 18 percent the probability that a rider will wear a helmet.” The next logical step would be for insurance companies to deny claims for those involved in a bicycling accident while not wearing a helmet. This could be avoided by mandating helmet use, saving both legal fees and lives.

No: Mandating helmets could make our roads more dangerous.—Caitlin Giddings

What’s the number one thing we can do to make cycling safer? Without a doubt, get more cyclists on the road. And what’s one of the biggest deterrents to getting more cyclists on the road? Well, it might not be “requiring them to wear helmets,” but mandated helmets are certainly up there near the top.

While voluntary use of helmets by consenting adults is certainly a wonderful thing, let’s just say that legally requiring helmets has been shown time and time again to prevent our numbers from growing on the streets. After all, take a look at bike share programs like the popular Citi Bike in NYC. Studies have shown that in 23 million rides across 36 programs nationwide, not a single person has died using (largely helmetless) bike share. A huge part of that is thanks to the slow, lumbering nature of the bikes themselves, but it’s also due to the fact that shared-bike programs put more bicycles on the road and increase the visibility of commuter cycling. Know what one city in bike share history is legendary for the program having failed to take off? Melbourne, Australia—also the only city on the list that has mandated helmet use (this study concluded that mandatory helmets killed the program). The truth is that many people, whether for personal or financial reasons, would prefer to not ride at all rather than purchase, wear, and lug around a helmet.

Sure, we all have our personal “saved by the helmet” stories, and I wear one regularly myself even though they haven’t been definitively provento be effective (unlike seatbelts). But over-emphasizing the efficacy of helmets only steers the focus away from other ways to make bike commuting safer and puts all the responsibility on cyclists for keeping themselves intact. In cities where cyclists are legally required to wear helmets and they don’t, they’re often seen as culpable when hit by a car—even when the motorist is responsible for the collision.

No, we can’t compare the United States to the Netherlands, much as we’d often like to. But the real reason Dutch cities are so safe and bike-friendly without the use of helmets is that everyone rides there. If we want to actually stand a chance of building our own cycling utopias in this country, we need to focus more on bringing in new bike commuters rather than restricting the converts we already have. Let’s focus our energy on bike-safety programs for both motorists and cyclists. Let’s focus on building bike infrastructure to make the city streets safer. Heck, let’s set up a program to give away free helmets so that everyone has an equal opportunity to have bad hair, if they so choose to wear one.

But let’s not make it illegal to be an adult on a bike without a helmet.

Where do you stand on the helmet law issue? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Image: heb@Wikimedia Commons (mail) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


In Europe, most cyclists choose to ride without helmets—but does that make sense on American roads?(Photo by heb/Wikimedia Commons)

In Europe, most cyclists choose to ride without helmets—but does that make sense on American roads?(Photo by heb/Wikimedia Commons)


This is essentially a religious debate. In fact most of what passes as discussion in the Urban Cycling Community is only sectarian disagreements between religious wings.

Most journalists are afraid to say anything that their wing of the Church of Urban Cycling’s Bishop will find offensive. Evidently the rates of Ex-Communication are pretty high the closer you come to the act of telling these little emperors they have no clothes.

Heck, on the issue of helmets, ride the way you want.

Just please let’s focus on why bicyclists need to ‘ride with the junk exposed’ (during the World Naked Bike Ride) but still keep their helmets on!

What happens when we ban lycra. File image. Source: News Limited

What happens when we ban lycra. File image. Source: News Limited

Never in the history of movements has such a wacky group of people descended on the least offensive of vehicles imaginable with all sorts of BS that they are manufacturing out of thin air. Why the heck would we want to know what the damned Europeans are wearing? Is there something in their DNA that makes them better than us? I don’t think so.

And goodness knows that having more bikes on the roadway might ‘feel more comfortable‘, but does it really make you safer? Heck if that kind of wacky logic made any sense the safest place on the roadway would be among all those automobiles. But large groups of them weaving in and out of groups of large trucks and buses is not my idea of ‘feeling safer‘.

Who the heck is monitoring the crap that goes as logic in the Church of Urban Cycling? Back in the day, they taught Apologetics. Then at least the guys supposedly trying to tell you what to think were all on the same page more or less.